Week 7 saw the New England Patriots run defense struggle against the running attack of the New York Jets, but they appear to have fixed their issues. A strong performance at home versus the Chicago Bears was duplicated in the contest with the Denver Broncos. After a Bye week, the Patriots continued their strong performance into Week 11, manhandling the Indianapolis Colts running game.
It was more of the same for the Colts in the second quarter ‒ another 1st-and-10 run play ending in another disaster. With Indianapolis again using a two-tight-end set, the Patriots counter with 4-3 personnel with Vince Wilfork in an under alignment. The Colts attempt a toss sweep to Richardson toward the strong-side and pull Anthony Castonzo to the outside to act as a lead blocker. Cornerback Darrelle Revis has an answer for that:
The run design allows six blockers at the point of attack against five defenders; however, Revis and Dominique Easley combine to blow up the play. First, credit the 5’11”, 200-pound Revis for sacrificing his body in run support against the towering 6’7”, 310-pound Castonzo. It’s quite a contrast when watching the Indy wide receivers “attempt” to block (ahem, Reggie Wayne). But while Revis’s effort should be lauded, it’s Easley who crushes any hope of a successful run.
Face-up with tight end Coby Fleener, the rookie defensive lineman explodes off the line, driving his inside arm to the outside shoulder pad of the overmatched blocker. With just a single arm engaged on Fleener, Easley is able to push the tight end five yards into the backfield and then disengage, making the wrap-up tackle on running back Trent Richardson for a negative run.
Second Level Stuffing
Late in the third quarter on 1st and 10, the Colts attempt another run out of a spread formation with Ahmad Bradshaw in the backfield. As expected, the Patriots use nickel personnel with Alan Branch and Wilfork plugging the defensive tackle spots in the middle. It’s time for the linebackers to make their presence felt again in the run game:
Most of the run attempts up until now were dead on arrival due to the penetration and disruption caused by the defensive line. On this play the failure of the Colts to block at the second level is evident. As seen above, right guard Hugh Thornton and center Jonotthan Harrison work a quick double-team block on Branch. While pre-occupied by Branch, the guard is caught out of position to pick up Donta Hightower, who has decisively read the play and shoots through the B gap.
Although Hightower does get spun around by a late block from a recovering Thornton, the linebacker’s penetration has stalled the ball carrier and spilled him outside. With Rob Ninkovich well positioned as the force/contain defender on the play, he funnels Bradshaw back into a tight alley to be filled by Jamie Collins and Branch. Collins is then free to fit the gap due to Wilfork simply preventing the second-level block.
Hightower’s disruption, Ninkovich’s containment, and Wilfork’s ability to occupy both blockers for so long all come together to minimize the run to a one-yard gain.
Closing out the third quarter, Indy faces 2nd and 5 with the ball inside the New England 10-yard line. With 11 personnel on the field for the Colts, the Patriots respond with a nickel grouping. The Colts attempt a draw play with the initial point of attack to the weak-side of the formation.
As the play develops, Bradshaw presses the hole between the left guard and center. With a good burst off the line, Akeem Ayers staggers Castonzo, fends off the block and closes in on Bradshaw, forcing the RB to reverse course. The ball carrier attempts a jump-cut towards the middle but meets Collins in the hole. As Bradshaw lands the jump-cut, the ball becomes exposed and he loses a secure grip on it. Just as the runner begins to regain control of the ball, Collins reaches out and pokes the ball free ‒ a fumble that Bradshaw was able to recover.
As the backside linebacker on the play, Collins is free to shoot the gap. But, as always, it’s a team effort. With Wilfork and Jones each occupying two blockers, Collins’s entrance to the backfield is met without much resistance. In particular, it is Wilfork that occupies Thornton long enough for Collins to sneak through nearly unimpeded.
Stopping the Run
Over the last two games, the Patriots run defense has allowed 44 yards on 29 rush attempts by running backs. With the growing ability to curb the opposition’s running attack using sub-package personnel and lighter fronts, New England’s overall defense only becomes stronger as the need to sacrifice coverage and sell out against the run dissipates game by game.
Led by the improved execution along the defensive line as well as the emergence of Collins and Hightower at the linebacker level, the Patriots run defense ‒ a major question mark just a few weeks ago ‒ is shaping into a strength as they enter the homestretch of the regular season.
All video and images courtesy of NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.
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